Sizing up the Nationals’ center field market

One of the Nationals’ big pursuits of the offseason is the same as one of their big pursuits of the July trade deadline: a center fielder.

They, of course, didn’t land one in July, backing away from a deal with the Twins for Denard Span when the price got higher than the Nationals liked. Span became more of a target for the Nationals than B.J. Upton, but merely four months after they failed to land either player, they could find the market less than ideal again this winter.

Span only played 70 games last season, missing time with concussions, and managed a .328 on-base percentage, well below his career average of .364. The Twins, who traded Delmon Young last season and could lose Michael Cuddyer in free agency, might decide to keep Span unless they get an offer that blows them away.

And Upton, who made $4.825 million last year, hasn’t had an on-base percentage above .331 since 2007. It became fairly clear last summer that the Nationals preferred Span to Upton, and if they can’t get Span, they may look at other options.

One of those would be Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, whom the Nationals have scouted this fall. The bidding for the 26-year-old is expected to be fierce, though; once he establishes residency in the Dominican Republic and can actually be declared a free agent, there could be as many as eight or 10 teams trying to sign him, and Peter Gammons tweeted today that Cespedes could get an eight-year deal worth more than the $35-$50 million range originally pegged for the outfielder. Whether the Nationals want to spend that kind of money for an outfielder with no major league experience remains to be seen, but there’s no question the team is interested in him.

And at this point, they should be, because there doesn’t appear to be a perfect fit for their need in center field this winter. It’s likely the Nationals will do something to address the position this winter - they’ve simply gone too long without a solution in center or at the top of their lineup not to fix it - but the available solutions are expensive, and they come with some risks.

Are there other players you’d like to see the Nationals consider in center field this winter? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let me know.